Modern-day slavery – including labor trafficking and sex trafficking – is a worldwide plague, bringing in billions of dollars in illegal profits every year to criminals and enslaving 5.4 victims for every 1,000 people.
Those were the staggering statistics mentioned during a panel discussion by members of the Lenawee County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition. The virtual presentation, “A Closer Look at Human Trafficking,” was held during Human Trafficking Prevention Month on January 26, 2022. Two Adrian Dominican Sisters were presenters.
Laura Schultz Pipis, co-facilitator of the Coalition and Associate Director of United Way of Monroe and Lenawee Counties, opened the program by offering resources to participants who might be triggered by the dark topic of human trafficking. She also facilitated the question and answer session that followed.
Amanda Davis Scott, Program Director of the Lenawee County Child Advocacy Center, said victims from throughout the world are trafficked in a variety of ways, either for sexual exploitation or to provide a number of services, from construction and domestic work to work in hotels.
“Anyone can be the victim of human trafficking,” Amanda said, but certain groups are more vulnerable, including people of color, children in foster care, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and low-income people. Parents striving to provide for their families could be tricked into sending off one of their children to another country for what they are told is an opportunity for a better life.
Amanda also described the various ways that traffickers exert control over their victims: threats to harm other victims or their families; confinement, often in a place where the victims don’t know the language; isolation from families and friends; and physical and sexual abuse.
Also on the panel were Adrian Dominican Sisters Patricia McDonald, OP, and Marilyn Winter, OP, both involved in the Coalition.
“Human trafficking is a crime against humanity,” said Sister Patricia, Professor of Counseling Education at Siena Heights University. “We are coming to a conscious awareness of what this is and what we can do. …This is an awakening in us as a people.”
Sister Patricia pointed to some red flags that could warn concerned citizens that a person they are encountering is a human trafficking victim: bruises in various stages of healing, an excessively submissive demeanor, and even an inappropriately quiet stance. She also explained a silent signal that victims might use to tell others that they are trafficked: putting their thumb into their hand and their hands down.
“If you see it, say it,” Sister Patricia said. “Turn it over to legal authorities. It’s up to us to do what we can, where we can, in all ways we can. Let’s join forces and help make our society better for all of humanity.”
Sister Marilyn Winter, OP, Co-Facilitator of the Coalition, noted the “perfect storm” that makes human trafficking possible: a person who has power, a person who is vulnerable, and an ignorant public.
“A lot of times, trafficking is so invisible and involved in places that we would never think is open to trafficking,” Sister Marilyn said. She gave the example of some orphanages, where children can be illegally adopted, and travel tourism in poor areas, where children are set up to sell small items to tourists – for the benefit of the trafficker. “Trafficking is moving its tentacles into many aspects of life,” she said. “The more people become aware of the evil of trafficking, the better off the world will be.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters have long been involved in efforts to combat human trafficking and in December 2008 approved a corporate stance “to educate ourselves and others regarding the magnitude, causes, and consequences of this abuse.”